2013 saw the release of one of the most unique power metal albums that I’d ever heard. Till Oberboßel (Elvenpath) and his host of guests constitute the conceptual studio project known as Lucid Dreaming, which is based very faithfully on Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles Of Prydain, a rather idyllic young adult coming-of-age saga inspired by Welsh mythology. These books were favorites of mine as a child, and remain so to this day. The first installment of The Chronicles remains one of my go-to favorites when illustrating one of the most thematic and spiritually faithful translations of fantasy novel to metal album, despite a relatively unenthusiastic reception in many power metal courts. To no one’s surprise, I’ve been following the progress of Pt. II with interest, and have been entertaining pretty high expectations for it.
Stylistically, Lucid Dreaming is very raw power metal in a myriad of ways. Not only does the mix feel very vocal- and bass-forward, but the array of guest vocalists that breathe life into Prydain’s characters are sourced from throughout the European heavy/power metal underground. None of them bear the polished pedigree that so many of the more commercially successful power metal acts are often noted for, but rather, they infuse the compositions with gritty, energetic, and passionate imperfection. Consequently, The Chronicles, Pt. II boasts an immense amount of character that is lacking in so many concept and story albums produced by the metal genre at large. Tobias Sammet and Arjen Anthony Lucassen may be able to conjure epic soundscapes to assist their grandiose artistic vision, but I’ll bet an oracular pig that neither of them could whip out such an earthy, authentic literary adaptation as this (and probably could never be bothered to).
A listen through the first several tracks will quickly indicate the order of the day for Lucid Dreaming: long, vocally-driven compositions are laid over relatively simplistic but well-formed power metal frameworks spearheaded by hooky rhythm and lead work composed by Oberboßel. Excluding the necessary but frustratingly titled “Introduction” and the ballad “Temptation,” The Chronicles, Pt. II features six tracks clocking in near or in excess of the seven minute mark. For those interested purely in the album’s musical merits, this can be a very hard sell, given the general melodic redundancy of almost all of these songs (“Morva’s Marshes” and “Summer’s End” are exceptions). In fact, I would anticipate that, similar to the group’s debut, a majority of listeners who are searching for either innovation or a repetition of the genre’s best-loved tropes, will step away from Part II with a very bland reaction. In recognition of this, I’ll continue to qualify my ongoing praise for what I will fully admit is a delightfully acquired taste.
Probably the best aspect of this album is a shining performance given by Thorsten Kohlrausch, who to my knowledge hasn’t been spotted on the genre stage since Dark At Dawn’s superb 2012 comeback EP, Noneternal. Kohlrausch voices the character of King Smoit (one of my favorites from the series), and is featured on three tracks. While his is certainly my favorite vocal performance, the sheer memorability of tracks like “Morva’s Marshes,” “Cantrevs of Prydain,” and “The Fate of Fools” means that at very few points does Till lose my attention with his compositions. Just like the project’s first effort, Part II proves to be a very coherent work, musically and narratively.
With the caveat that I’m very much a fanboy of Alexander’s books, I find The Chronicles, Pt II to be a downright great album, if one with niche appeal, and a worthy successor to its predecessor in all ways save its abominable cover art (Which, unlike the Black Cauldron menacing the cover of the debut, is quite unfounded within the source material). While there aren’t as many songs that achieve the successful duality of memorability and driving energy as “Motherless Child” and “To Caer Dathyl” from Pt. I, the spirit of Taran’s search for his parentage is wonderfully conveyed. I can recall clearly as I listen my favorite chapters of Taran Wanderer, brought to newfound life by the voices assembled here. Clearly, Lucid Dreaming’s work is most easily recommended to those already bearing nostalgia for Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy saga or seeking a refreshingly different fantasy story. However, I maintain that the songwriting, though primarily used as a narrative vehicle, is strong and should appeal to many within the heavy and power metal spheres, provided that the band’s more organic approach doesn’t bother you.